Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dreams To Remember

a love poem for Ryan Johnson

You were not there
I suppose that’s
why I was so unhappy
to wake up

Clint Eastwood and I
were in a backpack outlet store
looking at pink shirts
I was mentioning
how happy I was
to fit into smalls again

Eastwood’s eyes went squint
he tossed me a glock
I checked the clip
followed his lead

We were chasing someone
it may have been you
it was not clear

I got off three shots
but my aim was not true
the target disappeared
up a hill
into the hemlocks

At that moment
a brown Volkswagen
flew around the corner
and there was a car chase

Clint drove
I returned fire

Our pursuer
was George Costanza
and he was
his giant head
peaking out the sun roof

And I woke up
and you were there

I wanted to go back.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How Wile E Coyote Celebrates Easter Sunday

The bird ran straight threw
the tunnel painted on the cliff.

The painter followed in close pursuit;
suspending disbelief, speeding up.
He hit the wall. Flattened.

Peeled slowly off the rock.
Flat on the ground.
Paper-thin. Lifeless.

But this was not the end of the coyote.
The scene changed, and vigor re-entered him.
Up from the ground he arose.
Made a quick order to Acme,
and schemed anew.


[this is a pantoum, my first try at a form poem other than a haiku]

He had slept like a corpse
but a voice said “come out”
a surprised groan echoed
as blood returned to stagnant limbs

But a voice said “come out”
he woke up aching
as blood returned to stagnant limbs
tingles turned to pains turned to life

He woke up aching
moved slow and clumsy
tingles turned to pains turned to life
stepped into the light

Moved slow and clumsy
crowds watched dumb
stepped into the light
shielding his eyes

Crowds watched dumb
seeing his arm raised
shielding his eyes
no one expected this morning

Seeing his arm raised
a surprised groan echoed
no one expected this morning
he had slept like a corpse

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Good Morning Vancouver!

I caught the 8:04 to downtown
I shared the back
with a liquor-scented man
in dark sunglasses
who muttered to himself
cleared his throat
and scowled

At Maple Street
a pack of young women
filled the bus
with the smell of
shampoo and coffee

Over the Granville Bridge
the sun broke the overcast
shining in beams
on a half-dozen
identical condo buildings
and the evergreens in Stanley Park
even the half-drunk man

Between Drake and Davie
the city was waking
signs for diners
and porn-stores

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jonah Hill Joe Jonas Lovechild

or The Difference Nine Months Can Make

I stopped subbing nine months ago because I forgot to do some less than time-consuming paperwork and then had other more pressing matters to worry about, like ladies, and school-work, and food, and which combinations of the three worked best. Important things. When my money ran out I did the paperwork and went back to subbing.

Nine months ago I had modest sideburns. The students who thought themselves clever coined the nickname lamb-chops. For a while I tried to educate these kids on the difference between sideburns and mutton-chops, but quickly gave up.

High-schoolers just north of a hundred pounds with glassy eyes and floppy hair would come in and stare at me, ask if I was old enough to be a teacher—which is only flattering if it doesn’t mean that they won’t ignore what you tell them for the next hour because they believe that authority resides in the years on the far-side of thirty-five—which is usually exactly what it means.

Students would have the same observation almost daily. They’d look at me, furrow their brow and tell me I looked like “the guy from Superbad.”
“The skinny guy?” I would ask.
“No, the other guy.”
“Oh, the fat guy.”
I tried to act offended, though I respect Jonah Hill, and, aside from the being over-weight, he’s not unattractive.

I’ve lost weight since then. (Running and eating more vegetables than bacon. Who knew?)

Today a well-groomed freshman girl, with flower stickers on her binder and a voice like a squeal came in, looked at me: “Oh. . . My. . . God, you look just like Joe Jonas.” I said thanks, intoning a question mark. Somehow, I was offended.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Waiting for a Helicopter

or Why It Sucks to be in a Good Story

We got lost
because we were seventeen
and made poor decisions

We shivered
for one night
in a damp meadow
with scrapes and cuts
that smarted
with oil from unfriendly plants

There was no sleep that night
we huddled together
under a cold clear sky
on a fallen piece of cedar
wondered what would happen
when morning came

When we got back
we had cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate
in a warm fire-station
with our friends and family
later that day
Red Robin gave us free sundaes
because they’d recognized us from the news

We all like telling the story now
it’s probably my best
but in that meadow
we were hours from hypothermic
miserable and waiting

We didn’t know a helicopter would come at dawn
I suppose if we had
it wouldn’t be a good story.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy Solstice!

Spring announced itself
with a downpour
followed by hail
followed by showers

Optimism dies faster than winter.

How Do Teachers Do This Everyday?

or A Substitute Relearns Basic Algebra

Not many of you should become teachers
James 3:1

these kids pile in
with bad dye jobs
terrible music
blasting from
oversized headphones
thumbs racing
over fancy phones

they expect me to be okay with the title

they expect me to pronounce names
in languages I've never heard

they expect me to remember how to
find the slope of a line
solve for x
graph equations

they're dumbfounded
when I fail to meet expectations

still, when I do remember how to
find the slope of a line
and carefully explain
to the one student in class
actually working on the assignment
and she says:
I get it
in an honest tone
I think I understand

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Importance of Observing Your Birthday

My late twenties
arrived like a good houseguest
punctual and with presents
less trouble than one expects
the imagined imposition
replaced with honest joy.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Practice Resurrection

[I'm still working on this, but I'm excited about it, so I'm posting it now. Title is taken from a Wendell Berry poem.]

1. Learning to Walk

On clumsy toddler legs
off balance and weak kneed
first steps are made
followed by falling
followed by screaming

even the drunks
can get down the block
without falling (most the time)
though, they may need
the aid of friends or buildings.

2. Perfecting a Recipe

The first time I made breakfast potatoes
I set the heat too high
didn’t use enough oil
cut the potatoes too big
so the outside was crisp
while the inside was uncooked

After dozens of late breakfasts
made for hung over housemates
I have it down to a science—
red potatoes chopped to 1 cubic centimeter
steak-seasoning with a splash of olive oil
mixed in a large bowl
then micro-waved for five minutes
then fried in a well seasoned cast-iron skillet
over medium heat for 25 to 30 minutes

3. Counseling Session

I explain that I’ve never laughed as hard
at Ron Burgundy explaining
the German origin of San Diego's name
as I did this last week

He smiles
leans back
holds the thought

Tells me that he believes
you can tell how much
a person has been through
by how deep they laugh

I imagine when the kingdom comes
it won’t be long before the whole place
breaks into a contagious belly laugh
leaving the elect gasping for air
their eyes watering and sides aching.

Three Days Till Spring

trees are getting ready for lovemaking
the air is heavy with the aroma
the birds are starting to gossip
earlier each morning
there are buds coming up
in every shrub, bush, and hedge

if you listen close
you can almost hear
the sound of lawnmowers

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Time For a Nap

I pulled over
to look at a map
that had sat in my trunk
for two winters.
The mildew stains
didn’t make it easy to read.
What made it worse
was the fact that it was for Nevada.
I was in Oregon,
or at least I was pretty sure I was.
It was about that time
I realized I was lost
with less than a quarter-tank of gas
no cell phone coverage.
A nap seemed like a good idea.

Church Custodian

Prompt from Graham: Three phases for this prompt, take them how you will: "cave man/porn star/riding on a unicorn/undercover cop wearing a uniform" "I'm not one for hyperbole" "That's one hungry kid."

This is a silly one.

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.
Joel 2:28

He recalled the vision:

the scene was a cacophony of color
a painting accident involving
a caveman riding on a unicorn
and a porn star who was actually
an undercover cop wearing a uniform
and the color yellow.

His own interpretation was
that it meant he should open a pen store.

His logic made a surprising amount of sense.

I, his pastor, asked him what he thought
the significance of the yellow was.
He paused for a second and said
he always imagined cavemen with jaundice.

I’m not one for hyperbole
but I was starting to look forward
to these counseling sessions
with the church’s custodian
like they were Seahawk games.

He had a nice voice
made the visions seem less crazy
like he was narrating a film.
Outside his visions
he was a pretty normal guy,
sometimes we’d just talk about our kids.

He told me a story about his oldest,
who’s the thinnest 5th grader I’ve ever seen,
coming home from school
eating a box of a frosted flakes
and four hot-pockets.

Our session ended that day
without the customary prayer.
All I could manage was
“wow, that’s one hungry kid.”

Today, I told him he should think about
trying to paint his vision, see what insights he gains
and read Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones.
I wasn’t sure, but I felt like the two were connected.

Monday, March 14, 2011


No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand so that those who enter may see the light. . . Therefore, be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright.
Luke 11

We sit in a bar
and I feel about as thin
as the coaster
beneath a second beer
I wish was my ninth
but I’ve been down that road
enough times to know
when to

it’s dark
and it will get darker
as the people get uglier
as it gets later
January is not an easy month
to live in a cloudy part of British Columbia
under Coast-Mountain-shadows
and ten hours of “sunlight”
and you’ve just started talking
about the States
and the fundamentalists
and Glenn Beck
and the trouble with Christians
and I think I agree with most of what you’re saying
I don’t know you well enough
to know why your hands
look like they’ve never touched
anything that wasn’t concrete
or why you smell like an alley
but I like the way your voice sounds
so I join your monologues
and we a have a conversation
about how dark it is
and the service we aren’t getting
and where you’re from
(a city I haven’t heard of
outside of Toronto)
and where I’m from
(a town you haven’t heard of
outside of Seattle)
and you tell me about the 70’s
and heroin
and what it does
and I watched Trainspotting once
we agree that new Star Wars
wasn’t as bad as people said
and you ask what I do
and I say I'm studying
to be a pastor
and you pause
and I feel like
if I were to reach into my bag of tricks
to find John 3:16
this conversation would

so I buy you a beer
and myself another
and we talk about the weather
and how many days there are left of winter
and we close the bar down
and I shake your hand
and I smile as bright
as I honestly can
and walk home.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Walk Down Burrard

[This poem needs work, but I felt it was time sensitive, so I wanted to get it out. Give my your thoughts, editing and otherwise]

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own
Matthew 6:34

I walk down Burrard Street
to kill time before Church
listen to Social Distortion
start to feel nostalgic

I keep my eyes on the ground
see my reflection in a puddle
on the fancy sidewalk
outside a half-empty high-rise,
and wonder where I’ll be in a year

Outside an Anglican Cathedral
there’s a poster for a Gregorian chant
describing the service as an opportunity
to be transported to another age entirely

I roll my eyes
keep walking
past boutiques
selling things
I can’t afford and don’t want

I try and figure out summer plans
where I’ll live
wonder who’ll be around
if they’ll have time
thoughts and worries bounce off each other
as my socks dampen

I walk right past my church
because I had a lot of time
I keep walking down the street
my eyes chained to the sidewalk
trying to decipher
whether I’m looking at my reflection
or just a shiny shadow

In a shallow puddle
on the gray concrete
I notice several pink pedals
I look up to see a cherry blossom tree in half bloom,
must be the first tree in the city.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Daniel Sedin Sucker Punch

In undergrad
I burned my forearm
on my oven rack
while baking cookies.
I told people it was a scar
from a fight I had with a black bear
who happened to be on fire.

Earlier this week
you asked me if I’d been sleeping well
pointing to my eyes.
I laughed, because
it was a silly question.
Those weren’t bags under my eyes
they were black-eyes
from a fight I was in the night before
with the Sedin brothers,
those Canucks are cocky bastards.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Growing Pains

unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies. . .
John 12:24

The pain starts in the rib-cage
then flows up and down the spine
as bones enlarge
skin stretches
bodies ache.

Every boy learns this lesson:
everything that grows

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Vinyl Sadness

They say the piano used to catch on fire when he played
but that’s what you’d expect from a man who burned like Styrofoam.

The airplanes used to fly low over cheap houses
surrounded by scotch broom and coyotes
when we still listened to those old keys
on scratched records that never caught aflame—
but when the volume was turned up
you could feel the vinyl sadness
like Ben-Gay on your nether regions.

Rudy's Pizza

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
-Charles A. Miles

He changes his pace to match mine
his gait is easy, no hurry
not at all restless
we walk slow
down Chestnut Street
with Bellingham Bay
laid out before us.

At Rudy’s
we order my favorite pizza
split a pitcher of beer.
He listens to me explain
what empty feels like
makes sure my glass is full
maintains eye-contact
doesn’t change the subject.

Feline Love Language

or It's the Thought That Counts

A mangled and stiff carcass of a small rodent
greeted me at my front door this morning,
a gift from the neighbors cat.

I’m not entirely sure
what the cat expected me to do with it.

Have it stuffed and mounted above my mantel?
Prepare it in a garlic-cream sauce
and serve it over a bed of angel-hair pasta?
Keep it in my pocket to remind me of the cat?

I’m not sure the cat cared
what I did with the gift,
but I’m pretty sure
the old tabby wanted me to have it.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tunnel Sleep

When he sleeps
he sees it
in a blue sky
over clear water

For two years the lake hasn’t thawed
the sky has been nothing but charcoal

When he sleeps he shivers
against a concrete wall
in an old interstate-tunnel
next to burnt-out mini-vans

For two years he’s woken up
wishing he hadn’t.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Maybe I was Little Envious

He had shoulder length brown hair
flowing behind him in beautiful streams
as he ran with his yellow lab
down the same trail I run daily

He was six foot one
muscles from head to toe
shiny gold wedding band
on his left hand

His smile showed
the thousands of well-spent dollars
his parents paid a skilled orthodontist

I saw him coming
glared and
hoped he wouldn’t see the divot
I rolled my ankle on last Wednesday.

Isaac and April

[Right now, I think this is my favorite love poem I've ever written.]

It hasn’t ventured above freezing for over a week. The streets are skating rinks. My car did pirouettes on my way to Bellingham. I’m staying in my married friends’ one bedroom apartment, a poorly-disguised garage. The only thing keeping the place above freezing is a small space heater. So we bundle-up, and huddle close around the kitchen-table and a pot of coffee.

April launches a power laugh, leans forward. Tells me how Isaac cries at just about every movie they watch. Giggles interrupt as she tells how he teared up when they were watching The Lion King.

He grins goofily at the retelling of this story. “What?! It’s really sad.”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Now and Not Yet

or The Difference a Decent Night’s Sleep Can Make

The clouds were shining like August this morning
two shots of NyQuil sung a lullaby last night
today, a choir of birds defied the weather
and sang my morning alarm

There are still cold days ahead
but the writing is on the wall
though my posture may be sulking
I have a half-smile somewhere in me
that sees the solstice clearly.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Raccoons' Night Life

[looks like I got a morning/month theme going]

March started
with a cold and wet morning

On a pre-dawn walk
I discovered the night activities
of a pack of raccoons
revealed in a fast-melting trace of snow

Up and down sidewalks
through gardens and alleys
around and on-top of trash bins
the critters had been busy

Long before the sun came up
they scurried off
to their cozy hiding place

I wondered if they had room
for one more.